The White Sox have a special connection to Sept. 11, 2001. They were scheduled to play the Yankees in New York that day.
Manager Robin Ventura has his own connection. He was a New York Met when the attacks took place, and the memories of the days that followed remain vivid.
“We were in Pittsburgh, and we had a players association meeting scheduled,” he said. “I remember getting up, getting some coffee, and you turn on the TV and then see what’s unfolding, you can’t believe it. It can’t be true.”
The Mets bussed back to New York the next day. Shea Stadium was being used as a staging area for first responders and rescuers.
“It was right in front of us,” he said. “It was amazing, the cooperation of the firemen and everyone. It still gets to you.”
The Mets worked out at Shea before going back to Pittsburgh when baseball resumed.
“They had cots and things where guys were sleeping in shifts,” Ventura said. “It wasn’t really about us anymore working out again. It was just whatever these guys wanted to do you let them do.
“[Mets manager] Bobby Valentine did a great job of just organizing guys to pack boxes and do whatever you could.”
The Mets were the first team to play again in New York, and that became another defining moment, one that Royals manager Ned Yost also remembers. He was playing for the Braves, the visiting team.
“Most of us went down to Ground Zero and the Port Authority Police,” Yost said. “At that point, the buildings were still burning. You could still smell the jet fuel. They were still searching for survivors. It was a very somber experience.
“It was very emotional to go in there and see the fire trucks crushed, the police cars crushed and people on hands and knees with 5-gallon buckets digging through the rubble, trying to find survivors. The tragic feeling of exactly what happened and what was there, and now what’s there and the lives that were lost, it just seemed like you were walking around like a zombie.”
Both remember the awkward feelings about resuming play in the aftermath of the disaster.
“You didn’t know if you should smile, crack a joke or do any of that,” Ventura said. “There were a lot of families there that had lost somebody. Kids had lost their dads. I think at that time at least sports let people cheer and distract them somewhat from the pain that was going on.
“I know everyone’s probably seen the home run [Mike] Piazza hit [to win the game for the Mets]. It’s hard to just say how important that was, but it really was. It was just kind of a defining moment of people [who] could cheer, could hug each other and laugh and root for their team again.”
Yost remembers the “atmosphere of sorrow, but one of joy, too, that baseball was coming back. I’m sure it did help a little bit, helped [people] recover.”
Ventura still is emotional each time he hears bagpipes.
“You get emotional every time because that’s pretty much all we heard through September through the end of the year,” he said. “That’s really the thought that comes up thinking about the first game back in New York. When the bagpipes came through center field, it was a tough moment for everybody.”
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